Folks, we made it.
The 2022 NFL Draft is here, and that means it’s time to publish my personal final top-100 big board. So, here are my rankings ahead of Round 1, including prospect tiers and positional ranks.
|1||Edge Aidan Hutchinson, Michigan Wolverines||EDGE1|
|2||Edge Kayvon Thibodeaux, Oregon Ducks||EDGE2|
|3||CB Derek Stingley Jr., LSU Tigers||CB1|
|4||CB Ahmad Gardner, Cincinnati Bearcats||CB2|
|5||S Kyle Hamilton, Notre Dame Fighting Irish||SAF1|
|6||LB Nakobe Dean, Georgia Bulldogs||LB1|
|7||T Charles Cross, Mississippi State Bulldogs||OT1|
|8||CB Trent McDuffie, Washington Huskies||CB3|
|9||iOL Tyler Linderbaum, Iowa Hawkeyes||iOL1|
|10||T Evan Neal, Alabama Crimson Tide||OT2|
|11||Edge George Karlaftis, Purdue Boilermakers||EDGE3|
|12||WR Garrett Wilson, Ohio State Buckeyes||WR1|
|13||T Ikem Ekwonu, NC State Wolfpack||OT2|
|14||WR Drake London, USC Trojans||WR2|
|15||Edge Jermaine Johnson II, Florida State Seminoles||EDGE4|
|16||WR Chris Olave, Ohio State Buckeyes||WR3|
|17||WR Jameson Williams, Alabama Crimson Tide||WR4|
|18||DI Devonte Wyatt, Georgia Bulldogs||DI1|
Let me elaborate on some of the prospects I’m higher on than others.
Dean has some of the best tape in this entire class, and many in the NFL would agree. The issue with him — and the reason why he could slide into Day 2 — are the medical red flags and not so much the size.
Still, given what he did on the field this past year, I’d be comfortable taking him in the first half of Round 1. He is one of the most instinctive players to come out of college in recent memory. In my opinion, he was the most important player in Georgia’s historically good defense this past year.
Any defense predicated on pressure will want Dean and his flawless blitzing technique. He isn't only a weapon in the pass rush, but he’s also a playmaker in coverage. Last season, the Georgia product became the only off-ball linebacker in the PFF College era to earn a 90.0-plus single-season PFF grade in coverage and as a pass-rusher. The 5-foot-11, 229-pound off-ball linebacker racked up 31 pressures and 15 passing stops in 2021, top-10 marks among Power Five linebackers. He also ranked sixth in the Power Five in pass-rush win rate (22.3%), allowed a first down at the lowest rate among linebackers (13.5%) and didn’t surrender a single touchdown.
Dean may be on the “smaller” side, but given his skill set, it shouldn’t be that big of an issue in the NFL.
Karlaftis' recent fall doesn’t make a lot of sense. He has big-time power, a freaky get-off and some of the best hand usage in the entire draft class. Not to mention, the Greek Freak was also one of the handful of true game-wrecking pass-rushers in college football last season.
The 6-foot-4, 266-pound edge defender posted a 90.6 pass-rush grade in 2021 and ranked fourth in the Power Five in win rate on true pass-rushes despite being consistently chipped, doubled and cut.
Some team is going to steal Linderbaum near the end of Round 1 because of how few zone-blocking teams require a center. He may be undersized, but the ex-Hawkeye is an ultra-athlete who plays bigger than his size. Linderbaum was a top-five-graded center in all three years starting at the position, including in 2021, when he broke the single-season grading record for a center.
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|19||QB Desmond Ridder, Cincinnati Bearcats||QB1|
|20||iOL Zion Johnson, Boston College Eagles||iOL2|
|21||LB Devin Lloyd, Utah Utes||LB2|
|22||CB Andrew Booth Jr., Clemson Tigers||CB4|
|23||iOL Kenyon Green, Texas A&M Aggies||iOL3|
|24||WR Christian Watson, North Dakota State Bison||WR5|
|25||WR Jahan Dotson, Penn State Nittany Lions||WR6|
|26||WR Skyy Moore, Western Michigan Broncos||WR7|
|27||S Jalen Pitre, Baylor Bears||SAF2|
|28||CB Kaiir Elam, Florida Gators||CB5|
|29||WR George Pickens, Georgia Bulldogs||WR8|
|30||DI Jordan Davis, Georgia Bulldogs||DI2|
|31||Edge Boye Mafe, Minnesota Golden Gophers||EDGE5|
|32||DI Travis Jones, UConn Huskies||DI3|
|33||T Bernhard Raimann, Central Michigan Chippewas||OT4|
|34||QB Malik Willis, Liberty Flames||QB2|
|35||CB Kyler Gordon, Washington Huskies||CB6|
|36||Edge Arnold Ebiketie, Penn State Nittany Lions||EDGE6|
|37||Edge Travon Walker, Georgia Bulldogs||EDGE7|
DESMOND RIDDER: QB1?
Ridder is the most pro-ready quarterback in this draft. Many will argue he has no singular trait to hang his hat on, but there’s an argument that his processing ability qualifies, as he’s a natural at reading defenses and making the correct decision.
Ridder earned a 90.7 PFF grade last season while leading the Bearcats to the College Football Playoff. He has straight-line speed to add value in the designed run game, as well.
The Cincinnati product's accuracy isn’t elite, but it’s also nowhere near as bad as many make it out to be. Per PFF’s ball-location data, Ridder improved his accurate-pass rate by six percentage points from 2020 to 2021. His “perfectly placed” pass rate also jumped from 8.5% to 23.3%. On 10-plus-yard throws, Ridder ranked ninth in the country in accurate-pass rate and fourth in perfectly placed pass rate.
Why is Christian Watson WR5
Watson has been one of the pre-draft process' biggest winners because of his impressive performances at the Senior Bowl and NFL Scouting Combine. He was one of the three highest-graded wide receivers at the Senior Bowl and followed that up with a 4.36-second 40-yard dash, a 1.46-second 10-yard split, a 39-inch vertical and an 11-foot-4 broad jump at the combine. For a man his size, those times and measurements are almost hard to believe.
The North Dakota State product managed an 89.5 receiving grade and an astounding 4.33 yards per route run playing in the Bison’s run-heavy offense in 2021. He’s still a relatively raw player but has shown improvement in all areas, from his ball skills to his route running to his ability to get off press coverage. Watson has the potential to develop into a true X receiver but can be used in creative ways from the get-go because of his physical gifts.
Why is Travon Walker so low?
Yes, Walker’s physical profile is out of this world. He clocked a 4.51-second 40-yard dash (97th percentile among edge historically), 35-inch vertical (76th), 10-foot-3 broad jump (85th), 4.32-second short shuttle (70th) and 6.89-second three-cone (93rd). He also has long arms, measuring in at 35.5 inches.
However, he is a risky bet from a technical standpoint. His pass-rush move arsenal is non-existent, with little to no natural feel. The 6-foot-5, 272-pounder relied on his length with the bull rush and long arm, but it still wasn’t effective against college tackles, even with that advantage. Despite playing for a historically good defense in 2021, the Georgia product still produced just a 66.1 pass-rush grade and an 11.2% win rate in his three years in Athens.
While Walker was in a defense that limited his true pass-rush opportunities on the edge, he showed no flashes when he did get them. His lack of development overall while playing for an A-list program is a major concern. There’s no denying what he can develop into with further top-notch coaching, but it’s likely going to be multiple years before Walker can fully maximize his physical gifts, if at all.
Who the hell is Zach Tom from Wake Forest?
Tom was quietly one of the best pass-protectors in college football last season. The Wake Forest Demon Deacon led all FBS tackles in pass-block grade for the season, allowing just 13 pressures in 14 starts and zero to Jermaine Johnson II in their Week 3 showdown. Given his relatively slight frame, Tom will likely end up on the interior, which is where he spent his first few years on campus before moving to left tackle in 2020.
Still, the 6-foot-4, 304-pound lineman should at least get a shot at tackle. He’s already an advanced pass-protector and is a natural at using his hands independently. After a stellar collegiate career, Tom proceeded to light up the scouting combine, recording a 4.94-second 40-yard dash (97th percentile among interior offensive linemen historically), 1.70-second 10-yard split (96th), 33-inch vertical (96th), 9-foot-10 broad (99th), 4.47-second pro agility (94th) and 7.32-second three-cone (97th).
textbook snatch/trap from @WakeFB's Zach Tom
excellent way to counter the long arm. Tom's tape is littered with these plays. he's an absolute technician and one of the most slept on prospects in the 2022 class pic.twitter.com/iHDKSFc9AU
— Anthony Treash (@PFF_Anthony) April 26, 2022
How is Trevor Penning in Tier 3?
The Northern Iowa product is a high-level athlete at 6-foot-7, 325 pounds, and plays with a killer mindset — so much so that he might need to tone it down a bit. While he did rack up 33 big-time blocks against lesser competition in 2021, he also drew 16 penalties. Along with that, Penning’s pass protection needs to be completely reworked, and he has to do better with playing low. Those significant issues lead me to believe he will face a steeper-than-expected learning curve in the NFL.
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Why is Kenny Pickett down here?
I have some pretty significant concerns with how Pickett’s game will translate to the NFL level. The Pitt quarterback averaged 3.19 seconds per throw in 2021, tying for the third-slowest mark in the FBS. In fact, it would have been the slowest among NFL quarterbacks this past season.
While Pickett is a quality athlete, he’s nowhere near dynamic enough to make his hay on the ground in the professional ranks. Holding onto the ball often welcomes pressure, and Pickett was charged with 34 pressures this past season, tying for the second-most in the FBS. He has to be quicker and more decisive with his decision-making instead of panicking and holding onto the ball. And speeding up a quarterback’s processing is easier said than done — it’s a significant issue.
Should there be a concern with David Bell’s athletic tests?
During the pre-draft process, Bell's only above-average drill was the 10-yard split (1.56 seconds, 63rd percentile historically). Everything else — 40-yard dash, vertical, broad, three-cone and pro agility — was below the 30th percentile.
It’s fine to be concerned with the Purdue receiver’s numbers and is enough to knock him out of consideration for the first couple of rounds of the 2022 NFL Draft, but sliding to Day 3 would be too far. He has elite body control, plays with the physical element and showed a ton of growth as a route-runner this past season to help ease some of the athletic limitations. For a team in Round 3, Bell would be a nice value pick.
Dameon Pierce and James Cook as RB1 and RB2?
Rushing, receiving, pass-protection — Pierce can do it all at a high level. He may not have been a workhorse back in 2021, but the Florida back made the most of his touches, earning an FBS-leading 93.5 rushing grade while ranking in the top 10 at the position in receiving grade (83.7). He then went to the Senior Bowl and showcased his pass-protection chops: No running back turned in a higher pass-blocking grade in one-on-ones. The 5-foot-10, 218-pounder plays with brute force and possesses a game that will translate to the NFL.
As for Cook, he is one of the best receiving backs in this class. The Georgia product has sure-fire hands, top-notch speed and explosiveness and high-quality route-running ability. He owns an 84.9 receiving grade for his career — a top-three mark in the class — and dropped just one of 74 targets over that span. However, he does have to add more to his frame to hold up in the NFL ground game.